The Boy Scout Motto says it all. This guide will help you get started with your emergency kits and gear.
We explore the different types of emergency kits, suggest ready-made kits to purchase and gear if you're doing it DIY. We link out to the best emergency kit checklists and suggest the top rated, most popular survival gear.
Experience: "California Fires Took Our Home"
We recently interviewed survivors of the Paradise, CA wild fires. They moved into our area because they were forced to evacuate and leave everything behind.
As we talked with them about their experience they became quite emotional. They recounted how they felt feelings of devastation as they watched the news report on impending doom as the fires approached their community. They tried to hold out as long as possible hoping for some miracle.
Eventually, the sirens began to wail and people were pounding on their door demanding evacuation. Smoke filled the streets. By the time they decided to adhere and take action, they had a couple of hours to get out. They grabbed the most valuable items, some survival equipment and left. They relocated to another town with family and friends from the area. They continued to watch the news as reports came in. Eventually, the news reported that their neighborhood had been consumed. They had no idea if their home was left standing.
When they were cleared to return, they found their home and their place of business was destroyed. They had lost everything they hadn't taken with them when they left it.
The husband and father asked himself, now what? do we have enough to get by?
Fortunately, they lived a life of preparation and were able to survive and get back on their feet. They had grabbed the essentials and had their life in order so that survival was very likely.
There's great peace of mind in being prepared (insured) for life's emergencies. Having the right emergency gear on hand during an emergency situation can set the stage for a very successful, albeit daunting, outcome. Having your gear ready to go can mean the difference between real stress and struggle vs confidence and direction. We believe every household should have an emergency plan and emergency gear and supplies in ready-to-go kits.
In this article we explore numerous emergency kit types and recommend options for your preparedness needs.
Top Ready-Made Emergency Kits
We wish we there was a one-size-fits-all emergency kit. While we recommend our complete survival system, we realize everyone has a unique household, lifestyle, budget, location, climate, etc. Below we discuss the various emergency kit types so you can choose the best one for your situation.
We hear all sorts of terms thrown around for emergency kits. So, what's the difference between an emergency kit, survival kit, 72 hour kit, bug out bag, house kit, etc? Do they have different purposes? Do they contain different gear? Or, are they all the same thing with different names?
The way you intend to use your kit will determine the type of gear it has. Some kits are generic and some are very specialized. Each household should have the right kits and gear on hand. In fact, each household member should be ready with gear specific to their needs.
This page introduces each kit type. Clicking below will take you to a page with the topic discussed in full detail along with the equipment/supply list if you are building your own kit. Let's explore each type of kit.
|Essential Gear||General use (personal)|
|Every Day Carry (EDC)||Checklist||Items you have with you every day|
|Emergency Essentials Kit||Checklist||Essential survival gear|
|Go Bags||Leave home indefinitely (personal)|
|Bug Out Bags (BOB)||Checklist||Ultimate survival kit with gear for long term survival away from home|
|72 Hour Kit||Checklist||Emergency kit with gear for short term survival away from home|
|Basic Emergency Kit||Checklist||Basic kit for general emergencies|
|Survival Kits||Get back home safe (personal)|
|Day Pack||Checklist||Survival gear for regular outings|
|Survival Kit||Checklist||Survival kit for the outdoors|
|Home Emergency Kits||Shelter in place (household)|
|House Kit||Checklist||Emergency kit for home use|
|Bulk Supplies and Equipment||Checklist||Emergency supplies and equipment for home use|
|Specialty Emergency Kits||Special location (communal)|
|Office/Work Place||Checklist||Emergency kit dedicated to the office/work place|
|School||Checklist||Emergency kit dedicated to schools|
|Vehicle and Travel Kits||Checklist||Emergency kit dedicated to auto emergencies and trips|
|Boat Kits||Checklist||Emergency kit dedicated to aquatic emergencies and trips|
|Pet Kits||Checklist||Emergency kit dedicated to specific pets|
Whether you are at home, in your vehicle, at work, or out on the trail, having the right survival gear handy can make a huge difference. We believe the items you keep on you person (every-day-carry) can serve a valuable function. You should also carry gear, first aid, and travel toiletries just in case. We recommend you organize these items into modular pouches so you can move them if needed.
The gear you carry with you every day is called EDC gear. Most people take their phone, wallet or purse, keychain, etc with them everywhere. Some people wear a watch, carry a pocket knife or multi tool in their pocket, pens or pencils or carry other gear they use on a regular basis. We urge you to consider this your first level of preparedness. You can tackle 80% of the day's non-emergency adventures and challenges with whatever you have on your person.
Some people who are more prepper-minded will carry extra gear on their person. Some take simple first aid, flashlights, and other supplies. I know a group of guys who carry pistols in their scripturebag to church, among other items. While we don't necessarily recommend extreme prepper behavior, we do urge you to be mindful of where you are, where you're going and what you might need if an emergency arises.
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We recommend building three modular kits called essentials pouches. Each one contains a certain type of survival gear. The purpose is to help you get home in the event of an emergency. The 3 pouches are:
Carry essential tools and items based on the survival priorities. The pouch may contain Swiss Army Knife or multi-tool, water filter, flashlight, firestarter, paracord, etc.
Essential First Aid
Carry the basics for first aid. Some people use a field kit, some standard first aid supplies, and some use a hybrid.
Carry basic toiletries like pocket tissues (instead of toilet paper), travel sized toothbrush and toothpaste, chap stick, etc.
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An emergency kit is a generic term for a collection of survival gear and usually consists of a portable container like a backpack, bucket, or bin of gear that can be grabbed at a moment's notice to solve the problems common during an emergency. The gear inside the kit may be necessary for survival or comfort in the face of challenging events. A general emergency kit may address the common situations in a region (i.e. hurricanes in the South).
An emergency kit contains gear like tools, communications devices, food, water, temporary shelter , light sources, fire starters, and more. The gear may be specific to an individual's needs, specific to an emergency type, or general for use by anyone.
A number of companies make ready-made emergency kits. We compare the top pre-made emergency kits here. Pre-assembled kits are a great way to get started with your preparedness efforts. They can be affordable and have just the right gear to take care of your needs when the train comes off the rails.
We realize there are a number of factors that determine how prepared you are: budget, experience, common emergencies in your area, etc. Here's what we recommend for getting started with your survival preparation:
The key is to get started and build up your resources over time. Keep your emergency needs in mind and eventually you'll have a kit that's got all the right gear.
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A Go Bag is an emergency kit prepared for you to rapidly leave your home for an indefinite period of time, usually in some sort of rapid evacuation. Some are intended for long term use. A Go Bag is the ultimate survival kit and can support you for a long time. The items are portable and VERY functional.
Situations Warranting a Go Bag
Go Bag Types
A go bag contains the emergency essentials (discusssed above) among other items like extra clothing, food-ready-to-eat, water, etc.
A 72 hour kit is an emergency kit tailored to the needs of an individual for the first 72 hours away from home during an emergency. The kit is usually complete and ready and waiting within a home or vehicle. When an emergency strikes, the kit can be grabbed on the way out the door. It usually contains clothing, toiletries, cash, food, water, communication devices, power sources, light sources, etc.
To get started on your kit ask: "what would I need for 3 days if I had to grab one thing and leave my house?"
While we recommend building your own 72 hour kit, there are ready-made kits available. You can purchase them and add items for your individual needs.
Bug out bags are much like a 72 hour kit but are designed with a longer term duration. They tend to have a more serious intent. Often, they are equipped with survival gear, personal items, and protective gear like weapons, etc. They are a more extreme, yet justifiable form of emergency gear. In countries of unrest more extreme gear is needed. Many people who invest in a bug-out bag believe that it's just a matter of time before social unrest or some catastrophic event drives us from our homes. A bug out bag has gear for long term survival and protection.
Military and tactical personnel are trained for extreme emergency situations. They invest heavily in the necessary gear.
Often a bug out bag consists of a durable, portable container (tactical backpack with molle-ready attachment points, etc) filled with elite gear that will withstand extreme situations. Gear might include, hydration bladders and filters, MRE food, multitools, rechargeable light sources, hatchets or saws, portable shelters, weapons, communication devices, etc. Budgets for bug out equipment usually exceed other emergency kits because there is an emphasis on quality and specified gear.
Outdoor survival kits are intended to help you get home or get to safety. The gear they contain is intended to keep you safe, keep you warm, and repair your body enough to get to help.
Situations Warranting an Outdoor Survival Kit
Go Bag Types
A survival kit contains the emergency essentials (discusssed above) among other items like extra clothing, food-ready-to-eat, water, as well as tools, enhanced first aid, etc.
A Survival kit is considered a durable, portable, very handy emergency kit.
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Survival kits are intended for outdoor use. We spend a TON of time in the wilderness and we invest in very specific gear to help us survive in challenging situations.
Experience: Bad Sprain
A few years ago we were on a hike to an alpine lake in Northern Idaho. One of the kids we were with sprained an ankle badly enough he couldn't walk on it. Fortunately, we had the right gear to wrap and splint his foot and lower leg so he could get off the mountain with a make-shift crutch. The survival gear we had in our hiking bags made all the difference.
Survival kits are usually portable and contain gear and supplies for a day or more. Our personal kits include water filtration, fishing and hunting options for food, and gear for fire and shelter among other things. We even have allergy meds, sunscreen, sting relief, etc. While we end up packing some extra weight, the number of times we've had to use the gear makes it well worth it. Never head into the wilderness without the right gear!
Build your survival kit for your environment. For example, dryer climates require more water because filtration may not be an option. Colder climates may require more insulated clothing.
Your survival kit should be tailored to your needs. Get started on it and never venture out without it!
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Whether your adventures are urban, suburban, rural, or back woods you can be prepared for common emergencies. Your day pack will be custom to your needs. We spend a ton of time outdoors so we'll refer to a day pack that can be used on common outings (hiking, biking, fishing, etc.) Your adventures may be urban and your day pack may be a briefcase or purse so the gear you carry just in case will be different. We have some ideas for that as well.
Experience: Bad Directions
Last year we were given bad directions on a new mountain bike route. We had a map but the trail wasn't listed. Our 'direction-giver' sent us down a steep trail into a ravine. As we dropped elevation, we wondered how we were going to get to the ridge we were hoping for. We kept thinking the trail would turn upward but we were mistaken. We found ourselves at the bottom of a long valley and it was getting dark. The trail we came down was so steep we couldn't ride back up it so we had to continue on the trail until it connected with another one.
Fortunately, we had water, headlamps, food, and insulated jackets in our day packs we ALWAYS take with us on our adventures. Hours later we wound around on a connecting trail back to the saddle we wanted to reach. The sky was cloud covered and it was dark and chilly. We were exhausted and a bit unnerved but we got out. We were so glad we were prepared with the necessary supplies.
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A house kit or home kit is intended for an emergency where you much shelter in place. It assumes you don't have the ability to just run to the store. It has tools, first aid, food storage, water filtration and storage, and other supplies designed to keep you comfortable and healthy.
C.E.R.T Training - Las Vegas Warning
We were in a C.E.R.T training in Las Vegas a few years back when the teacher asked how vulnerable we thought Las Vegas was as a city. We all paused.
She responded, "for a city of 2 million, there is one water source, one fuel line, one airline fuel line, limited power generation, a couple of freeways with many miles between cities, and in the summer 112 degree weather. If any one of those resources was compromised on a hot summer day, how long do you think it would take before social unrest would begin? If the resource was compromised long term and people were dying of heat stroke, how long would it take before social unrest was intense? Would you be prepared to relocate with the right gear?"
We all looked around at each other very perplexed. Better have a plan.
Situations Warranting a House Kit
House Kit Types
A house kit might contain a family sized water filter, generator, fire wood, large first aid kit, medical supplies, food storage (up to 1 year), etc.
A Home Kit is considered required in all households.
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A house kit is an extention to your go bags. It is portable yet works well in the home It may be intended to support you at home or loaded into a vehicle for relocation. We recommend having items like lanterns, camp kitchen items, tools (i.e. hatchet, utilities wrenches, etc.), enhanced first aid or trauma supplies, and other larger items.
An emergency kit for home and family should take into consideration all of the members of the household. It should be portable and include clothing, gear, medications, and other items necessary for survival and comfort.
Every spring we schedule 2 family nights to review our emergency preparedness plan and resources. The first night we check all of our stuff to see what's broken, missing, worn out. We make assignments to do our shopping. As any new gear arrives we replenish the kids. On the 2nd night we pick a topic or two and train each other on how to use the gear in the kits. At one training we got all of the items out of the trauma kit and had a family friend (doctor) show us how to use the stuff. At our last training it was surprising that none of us knew how to use the fire extinguisher.
Including everyone in the household in the emergency plan and training can bring a lot of peace of mind.
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Bulk supplies and equipment usually a larger system of survival gear. It may include tents or a camper for shelter, propane for heating and cooking, changes of clothes, bedding, generator for power, etc. An emergency that requires long term survival has a large enough impact you might not be going home. We can't help but think of The Walking Dead and hope our gear never sees a day like that.
Imagine a hurricane or earthquake with large enough devastation that returning home isn't an option. In that case, you want to grab your gear, throw it in a vehicle and hit the road. After hurricane Katrina people were relocated to stadiums and other shelters and then forced to relocate permanently because of the resulting damage to communities. Every part of the country has climate and earth produced threats, civil threats, etc.
The key to building a kit is to make sure the gear is all together and ready to load up at a moment's notice.
During good times it seems silly to prepare for extreme times. However, during those extreme times the silliness quickly disappears.
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Your home and vehicle might have the right survival gear but there are locations like work, school, others that may require specific gear or a kit that is very handy.
Situations Warranting a Specialty Kit
Go Bag Types
A specialty emergency kit contains the emergency essentials (discusssed above) among other items like extra first aid, special tools, etc.
A specialty kit is considered unique to a specific situation.
Emergencies can occur at nearly any workplace. Besides external hazards and catastrophes, workplace accidents happen more frequently than we'd like. Being prepared with the right first aid, event management tools, and a plan to contain a hazardous situation is key to maneuvering through a traumatic event. Find quality emergency kits for work.
[blockquote] At a previous job a framer put his foot up on a floor and rested his weight on the other leg. His knee was bent and he set his nail gun just above his knee cap without letting go of the trigger. When he set it down, the safety was depressed and 3 nails shot out into his knee.
Quick action from coworkers minimized the damage and they were able to get him to the hospital quickly.
The right gear and the right training made all the difference.
Many workplaces have required emergency plans and procedures - some are government mandated. For those that don't, now's a great time to take action. Start with the essentials and set a monthly budget to add what's needed. Don't forget to train everyone how to use the gear, you might be the one who benefits!
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Most schools have government mandated emergency plans, first aid kits, and emergency kits. However, they also get used A LOT. It's key key to make sure the gear and equipment is updated and replenished regularly. Staff should also be trained regularly so students, staff and administrators are protected.
While most incidents are minor and require simple first aid, individuals with special medical needs or external events can require specialized training.
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Travel is often full of uncertainty. Mechanical failures, drowsiness, construction, etc can alter plans considerably. Having vehicle emergency gear in your vehicle can make a huge difference.
Vehicle emergency kits should contain tools for basic vehicle repair, devices for communicating with other vehicles (cones, flares, lights), jumper cables, tow ropes. They should also include first aid supplies. It's surprising how often first aid is administered while traveling. Medications should also be included. We go through a lot of nausea meds when we travel with people who get car sick. We also use Tylenol quite often.
Experience: War Saved the Day
We broke down in the mountains one time. My dad walked up the road to a farmhouse we passed to call for help. When he returned he mentioned it would be hours before Mom arrived. He pulled out the emergency kit in the truck glove box and grabbed a deck of playing cards. We played War the entire time. We turned an emergency situation into one of my favorite memories because we had a simple creature comfort.
Most vehicles have trunks, consoles, glove boxes, or other storage compartments. Start with portable container like backpacks, or small duffles to fill with the right gear.
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Much like a purpose-built kit for your car you should carry a kit with the right gear for boats and aquatic craft. It only takes getting stranded on the water once to learn that lesson.
Experience: Tubing Accident
A family friend has one of those cool surf boats. He's a doctor and seems to always be prepared. On one aquatic outing his son had a bunch of friends out tubing. They flipped the tube and it knocked the boy out. The doctor quickly made his way over to the still-floating boy who was face down in the water. They pulled him out and got him breathing again. The gear and training they had on board turned a scary situation into a campfire story.
We've seen fish hooks through fingers, rope burns, and blisters on boating events. If you have a boat, you have to be prepared.
Some people think of their pets as children. Our dog pretty much runs the household. When an emergency arises it's key to have a plan and a pet emergency kit so you can your pet with you or leave it with someone at the drop of a hat.
Most people start with ready-made emergency kits. They buy something with the essentials assembled by professionals. However, premade kits can be deficient in individualized gear, first aid, and medications.
We recommend starting out with a ready-made kit that fits your needs. Over time, add and subtract to it. Over the years, most of the original gear from our ready-made kits has been replaced with high-quality items.
If you have the budget and a little time, the best emergency kits are often built by you. We built a definitive group of DIY emergency kit checklists for you to choose from. You can down load the checklist and then purchase all of the right products. We provide links to all of the products you'll need with optimal and budget-friendly options.
There are a number of methods for building your own kit:
While it takes a little effort to purchase, assemble, and package your gear, it can be very rewarding. Not only do you know exactly what you have access to but you also have done the research to know how to use it. We spend time with our kids to build their personal kits. They get a budget and we help them prioritize their purchases. It's satisfying to see them in an emergency situation using the gear from their kits.
Experience: Scouts without Water
As a Boy Scout my son's troop ran out of water during an overnight backpacking trip. He was the only boy with a water filter. He filled all of the boys' water bottles numerous times during that outing. I smiled every time I saw him filling up a bottle as I remembered the numerous family nights going over his emergency gear.
While we swear by building your own kit, sometimes ready-made is the way to go.
There are many kit types for a number of different intents. We believe that emergency preparation should center around a survival gear system, not just one kit. Our emergency gear should be handy, it should be effective, and it shouldn't be bound by time (i.e. 72 hours).
Stage 0: Every Day Carry (EDC) (personal) - Includes gear you have with you day to day.
Stage 1: Emergency Essentials (personal) - Has the bare essential gear for a survival situation and can be moved from one pack to another or to a vehicle or coat pocket.
Stage 2: Go Bag (personal) - Includes the Essentials from Stage 1 and adds critical gear for a long-term stay away from home in an evacuation.
Stage 3: House Kit (household/family) - Extended gear for the family or household in case of evacuation.
Stage 4: Bulk Supplies and Equipment (household/family) - Food storage, water storage, and equipment for shelter-in-place emergencies.
A survival system consists of a lot of gear segmented by priority into stages. For example, all of our individual day packs have basic first aid. However, whenever we go car camping, we throw in our trauma kit as well. It contains a lot of additional first aid items to assist in a large number of emergency situations.
The goal is to be able to have enough gear with you at any given time to handle an emergency. Since not all situations allow us to pack around a trauma kit, we select the appropriate stage of gear for the outing.
So how do you choose what kit(s) you need and whether to buy or build? Use the following guide questions:
We can give you some direction on what type of emergency kit you need. See the table below. You'll also need to consider the number of people you are responsible for so you can scale up your kits and supplies.
|Survival System||Emergency Kit||Survival Kit||72 Hour Kit||Bug Out Bag||Bulk Supplies and Equipment||Car/Boat Kit|
|Own a home||x||x||x|
|Spend time outdoors||x||x||x|
|Live in a region where evacuation is likely||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|Believe long term evacuation possible||x||x||x||x|
|Own a vehicle or water craft||x||x|
|Worry about long term social unrest||x||x|
|Worry about zombie apocalypse||x||x||x|
|Have a tight budget||x||x|
This table suggests whether you should buy or build an emergency kit. Also, keep in mind the number of people in your stewardship so you can have the correct amount of supplies.
|Buy Ready-Made||Build Custom|
|Do I have limited budget?||x|
|Do I have limited emergency knowledge or experience?||x|
|Do I have limited time to research products?||x|
|I don't have specific individual needs or medial issues.||x|
|Is this my first emergency kit?||x|
|Do I want the best or specialized gear?||x|
|Do I have an ongoing budget for emergency supplies?||x|
|I have specific individual needs for someone I'm responsible for.||x|
|I want a modular approach to survival||x|
|I kind of nerd out about gear and survival.||x|
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3 Most reviews are based on personal experience from one of our content editors. Some are based on research and the opinions of other reviewers.